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Monday, 1 August 2022
Page: 258


Senat or McCARTHY (Northern TerritoryAssistant Minister for Indigenous Australians and Assistant Minister for Indigenous Health) (11:42): Look, I think it's important—and it's been good—to hear previous speakers on the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Bill 2022, and I do think that some clarity around a bit of the history is important, certainly for me, as I also reflect on the importance of this bill before the Senate. Every senator has that right. It's why we're chosen and elected as senators to this place.

We certainly support the principles of the declaration. The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples was adopted by the UN General Assembly in 2007. If we reflect on that year, 2007—and if I think about my time in parliament, both here and in the Northern Territory—that was also the year when the John Howard prime ministership and the government intervened into the Northern Territory. I think these are critical moments in history, whichever way people choose to look at them. That intervention in the Northern Territory continued until only last month.

When I reflect on that intervention, for those of us who were in the Northern Territory parliament, it was perhaps one of the most significant moments of disempowerment as an elected member of parliament in the Northern Territory at that particular time, because we didn't know what was going on. I certainly didn't know. I was not in the cabinet at the time; I'm sure they would have a different response to that. But, for an elected member for north-east Arnhem Land, representing thousands of Territorians, not being able to have an opportunity to understand, defend, debate or discuss what was going on was in the minds of the then government, so it comes as no surprise that, in the year of the declaration at the United Nations, the Australian government of the day did not sign the declaration to have the same concerns for First Nations people in unity with First Nations countries around the world. Obviously, we were one of the four that did not sign it at the time.

It wasn't until the Rudd Labor government came in late in 2007. In 2009 they then did sign this declaration otherwise known as UNDRIP. Australia then joined the international community and expressed its support for the declaration. The first thing that Prime Minister Rudd knew that he had to do was also to show that this was an Australia that did have compassion, that did listen to First Nations people, that did agree with the world stage in terms of the declaration for the rights of Indigenous people around the world.

The declaration sets out non-binding principles regarding the fundamental human rights of Indigenous peoples for nations to work towards. The Australian government supports the aspirational principles underlying this declaration. We're clearly still seeing some of the fallout from the intervention in terms of not having an exit strategy. I think for anyone or any government to make such a massive decision—irrespective of political persuasion, when you intervene so dramatically in the lives of a population, there must always be a significant step out from that intervention, and that exit strategy was not clear.

That exit strategy is something that we now have had to pick up. We have to try to work with the people of the Northern Territory on how we step out from that. It is unfortunate on one level, because we know that this was not urgent in terms of the time lapse of the stronger futures legislation. The fact that there was no urgency in the time lapse showed that there could have been much better planning to step out of something where a group of people had been intervened on so dramatically and then were left to deal with that fallout because of stepping out of it with an appropriate exit strategy. In fact, I do recall that even the former coalition foreign minister, Alexander Downer, in 2007 suggested what the intervention could have meant for political gain for the coalition. He said:

… when we intervened in the Northern Territory in the Indigenous communities there again, the actual initiative was very popular with the public but it didn't shift the opinion polls.

The reason I share this and remind the Senate is that we need to reflect on why it was that the Australian parliament did not sign up to this declaration in 2007.

This bill should be referred to a committee to finish the inquiry of the last parliament. I know my colleague Senator Dodson has made references to it as well. On 29 March 2022, the Senate referred the application in Australia of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples to the Legal and Constitutional Affairs References Committee for inquiry. Now, that committee was to report to this Senate by 15 September, but clearly that inquiry lapsed. We went to an election and we're back here. So we certainly encourage that inquiry to pick up, because 92 people and organisations made submissions, which are listed on the inquiry's webpage. This includes submissions from First Nations land councils, legal services and peak bodies. We want to hear from them, and I would urge the Senate to support this inquiry and enable all those submitters and more to have their opportunity to speak to this bill through the inquiry.

Since being appointed Assistant Minister for Indigenous Australians and Assistant Minister for Indigenous Health, I've met with a range of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations and national leadership bodies, including the National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation and the National Health Leadership Forum, and I had the honour of meeting with organisations that are part of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Advisory Council on family, domestic and sexual violence. The National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Plan highlights that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have a right to culturally safe and responsive health care free of racism and inequity. I note the valuable submissions from organisations such as the Aboriginal Peak Organisations Northern Territory and the North Australian Aboriginal Justice Agency. I also note the very strong desire of many organisations to see a First Nations voice enshrined in the Constitution.

We want to make sure there is meaningful consultation with First Nations people on this bill, and we should not ignore those submissions that have been received already. Article 19 of the UN declaration states:

States shall consult and cooperate in good faith with the indigenous peoples concerned through their own representative institutions in order to obtain their free, prior and informed consent before adopting and implementing legislative or administrative measures that may affect them.

We should align our actions to the principles and intent of the declaration. We know that similar legislation was put in place in Canada last year and we're aware that some First Nations peoples in Canada raised concerns about its implementation—and we recognise that it is early days. So we want to ensure that there is meaningful consultation with Australia's First Nations peoples on this bill. We propose that the application of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples be referred to this committee to complete the inquiry.

On this side of the house, we have a plan to deliver a better future for Indigenous people in Australia, and I'd like to talk about some of the areas that I have responsibility for, which I'm incredibly proud to be able to work towards over this term, knowing, though, of course, how challenging it will be. We certainly took to the election the importance of replacing the Community Development Program with real jobs and real wages. Now, that will be a significant challenge, but one that we are up to. We have made reference, especially here in the Senate—and I know I've spoken about it over the last few years—to the previous program, the Community Development Employment Program. There are around 40,000 Australians on the current CDP, and it is not working, and that's a clear fact.

With the jobs summit that we will have in September, I'm pushing, along with Senator Dodson and, obviously, Linda Burney as the Minister for Indigenous Affairs, to ensure that we do have those representatives from the sector. For example, the Arnhem Land Progress Aboriginal Corporation, ALPA, does an extraordinarily excellent job in employing First Nations people throughout its stores, not only in the Top End but also in Far North Queensland—the work that they do, especially in places like Milingimbi, where they not only run the store but have a wonderful furniture factory. It's awesome; it really is. They are working locally to design some of the most beautiful pieces of furniture, which are now in boardrooms across Australia and overseas. That furniture comes from this very small island which is part of the Crocodile Islands. They make incredible furniture and they are so proud of that. I think if we can have input from organisations like ALPA and from Manapan, who runs the furniture industry, at the jobs summit in September then we can start to really engage again as to how we work with the over 40,000 Australians on this current CDP program, which we know is failing, and how we move that to the areas where we want it in terms of better conditions, better jobs, obviously superannuation and all the kinds of leave entitlements that we would like to see as part of that. It will be a challenge, and I do look forward to trying to address that.

As part of my role in health I'm quite excited about this initiative, and it is about training 500 new First Nations health workers to increase access to lifesaving dialysis treatment for those living with chronic kidney disease and expand efforts to eradicate rheumatic heart disease in remote communities. One of the places that comes to mind with rheumatic heart disease is the work that's being done in particular in places like Maningrida.

Labor will invest in First Nations conservation of our land and waters by doubling the Indigenous rangers program. Can I take this moment to congratulate all those rangers out there across Australia because Sunday was World Ranger Day, so a huge congratulations to all of those rangers right across the country who do what you can to look after country and to look after our waterways. I know many of you thoroughly enjoy what you do. But we certainly want to keep supporting those First Nations ranger programs and the conservation in those areas.

We're also boosting funding for Indigenous protected areas by $10 million a year and delivering the promised cultural water in the Murray-Darling Basin. As I said, we want to strengthen economic and job opportunities for First Nations people and communities through a new public sector employment target and public reporting by Australia's 200 largest companies. I do look forward to bringing that back as something that I will be monitoring to see what those companies are doing to assist. We're certainly going to renew Australia's commitment to reconciliation and work in genuine partnership with First Nations people for better practical outcomes. And there is no doubt, after the weekend in Garma on Yolngu country, that I'm incredibly proud to represent the people of the Northern Territory and continue the passion and the fire that burns to see our country go to a referendum to see First Nations people with a voice to parliament enshrined in the Australian Constitution. I encourage all Australians to have open and respectful debate, irrespective of whether we agree or disagree. But let's keep it respectful.